In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week we’re picking our favorite songs of protest and dissent.
YG and Nipsey Hustle, “FDT” (2016)
Donald Trump still seemed like a joke when “FDT” first dropped. (Nipsey even says as much in the second verse.) It was March of last year; Hillary was holding off Bernie in the primaries, and Trump was winning a lot more caucuses than anyone could’ve anticipated. When would one of the Republican adults show up, we all thought, or—gasp—could the party be so fucked that Donald Trump would fall ass-backward into the nomination? How uproarious!
But YG and Nipsey Hussle weren’t taking any chances. Reportedly recorded in an hour, and accompanied by an ad hoc video filmed against massive police resistance in the streets of Los Angeles, the two emcees put forth a focused, serious response to the threat. Part of the appeal of “FDT” is this clarity. “Fuck Donald Trump” is the one thing we could all agree on, even then, as his slate of ever-expanding enemies and anti-American “others” roped in more and more people, insulted by his narcissistic envisioning of America. Trump’s was a campaign based on hatred, fear, and ignorance, and while the response up until then had varied among giggly insults, equivocation, giving him free air time, and somehow blaming the year 2016 itself, YG and Nipsey looked at each other and instead offered the candidate a ferociously clear middle finger. There are no “little hands” jokes on “FDT”; there’s no “Drumpf,” and there’s no Clinton; there’s little policy. There’s a spry beat from Swish and two hungry emcees saying “fuck you” back. It’s the response he deserved, not funny or fun but furious. How the fuck could this guy have gotten this far?
A primal howl is good, but a protest song only becomes an anthem when there’s room for everyone. This is the spirit, the triumph, of “FDT,” particularly heard in 2017. Just check the video, which subtly fades in red as long-time Blood YG raps, and then gradually introduces Crip blue during Nipsey’s verse, as if evidence that the only way to oppose a racist autocrat is unity, no matter how unlikely. White people get a polite nod from YG in the first line and a shout-out from Nipsey at the end; Mexicans get an assist from Tupac in the third verse; then the beat kicks the door open so everyone can march. Since then, of course, we’ve seen the tragedy of Trump’s election and a continuing parade of injustices as his administration carries through on the very promises that inspired YG and Nipsey Hussle to enter the booth in the first place. But their clarity resounds today. Millions gathered the day after the inauguration to repeat the anthem. Congress has been forced to reallocate staff to answer the flood of people calling in to repeat the chorus. Six years’ worth of donations flooded into the American Civil Liberties Union in one weekend in defiance of Trump. Radio stations are being pirated to blast the song, an uprising soundtracked by two mean motherfuckers riding high on a menacing bassline and chanting, with first a city behind them and now a nation, “Fuck Donald Trump.”
What more needs to be said? Give it three verses and a dope beat, and let’s blast it until this is over.